Archive for March, 2015

Why can’t politicians treat us like intelligent adults ?

Friday, March 27th, 2015

As I write this the latest salvo in the great British TV election debate saga is a thorough telling off from Nick Clegg.


Clegg’s accused the PM of “faffing”.  He said “Honestly my head is spinning with all the proposals and counter proposals, and the insults and the counter insults.”  Poor Mr Clegg. His comments that this political soap opera has proved too much for him might not be the best qualification for running the country but let’s brush over that point.  As far as most of us are concerned of course the bickering over the debates feels like a lot of nonsense doesn’t it?


This is now joined as a story by “Kitchengate”: Milliband accused of lacking authenticity because he was photographed in his second kitchen and not his main, luxurious, rich person’s kitchen.


The main parties are currently neck and neck in the polls.  Yet there is no sign that any of the main candidates can really strike the right chord with the public.


I think that there’s a continuing reason for this and it is an anachronistic approach to connecting with voters.  Political parties largely still talk down to them and everything they say is layered with spin.

This is part of a continuing denial by politicians and their advisors to acknowledge the change in the media since the last century, or even indeed since the last election.


In 2007 commentator and journalist Andrew Neil spoke at our client conference on the change in media from well behaved and controllable outlets in the last century, with specific deadlines (the News at Ten just went out at 10pm, and the newspapers had deadlines for the front page) to 24 hour rolling news and commentary.  He said that in his experience back then everyone was struggling to adjust, to move away from the attitude of “You’ve never had it so good” that epitomised the last century ; in transactional analysis terms one of adult to child.


In my first book “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool” I examined how the internet and social revolution compels brands to open themselves up to the consumer and to move away from spin towards authenticity, to the brand truth. The brands that have found it more difficult to do this are those where the brand spin doesn’t enhance the brand truth but instead distorts it or covers it up.  Those brands cannot bear to cede some control to the consumer.


The current exchange over the TV debates or the flurry of Kitchengate feels like this to me.  Not a question of policy or politics but a desire to remain in control.  In all honesty, it doesn’t feel very much like modern Britain.




Where’s all that content going to come from?

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Content is a growth industry.  Speaking recently to the Sunday Times ITV’s Adam Crozier said “The demand for content has never been higher.  It’s a $50bn market globally growing at 5-6% a year.  Whether you started life as a fixed telephony company, a mobile provider or an Internet company what differentiates you is what content you have on your service.”


Where’s all that content going to come from?


There was a discussion at Festival of Media a couple of years ago about whether it was a brand’s job to make content.  I’ll admit that I didn’t really take to this language particularly.  Call me oldfashioned but i think that a brand’s job is to sell stuff primarily.   But without a shadow of a doubt branded content has a role to play in driving sales.  We don’t just consider advertising with all its strengths and weaknesses as the alpha and omega of the media plan.   A comms plan can be more effective when it includes branded content as long as we are clear about how paid owned and earned work together and so long as we make sure that it is accountable.


At a recent debate at the RTS chaired by Claire Beale the possibilities of branded content were debated.  Claire pointed out that of course TV was funded originally by branded content.  Soaps are called soaps because they were funded by soap manufacturers originally.  She played a Flintstones episode with cigarette endorsement that probably helps to explain why on so many levels the UK has never allowed such blatant association of brands and TV programmes.  Do watch it – it works on so many levels !


I made it clear that we are still massive believers in advertising of course, but that every answer to a client brief does now consider the role of content in addition to or instead of advertising.


Producing branded content is still not as simple as it could and should be.  There a fewer benchmarks in the public arena and bigger promises made about videos “going viral”.  There are more disappointed branded content managers out there than there should be.  Basing your entire campaign on earned media alone is like betting your budget according to the horse racing tips on the wireless.


Tiffany Rolfe, CCO at co-collective has blogged some comments overheard at a judging panel. They’re all worth bearing in mind as content comes to have a well deserved place on the media plan.  They include :


“Its like they made this for someone in prison” ie who can’t escape.  Just because you can go for longer than 30 seconds doesn’t mean you should.


“Look a video without a hashtag!” how unusual – there’s only so many hashtags even a millennial can take.


“i’ll never get that 3 minutes back”


On a more positive note : laughter and tears – if you can tap into a universal human emotion you are on to a winner.



Are you the Special One ?

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Strategy is an overused word.  Frequently mixed up with tactics.  I’ve only ever come across one person who calls himself a tactician in the ad trade and that’s Dave Trott in his brilliant book Predatory Thinking. Lets face it that’s not bad company to be in.


In Good Strategy Bad Strategy author Richard Rumelt defines strategy as  discovering the “critical factors in a situation” and focussing resource to deal with them.  His illustration is easy to visualise.  Nelson, at Trafalgar, overcoming the enemy, who outnumbered the English by a huge factor, by using his ships to break through the line of Franco-Spanish fleet and defeat them.  “Despite the roar of voices wanting to equate strategy with ambition, leadership, vision, planning or the economic logic of competition, strategy is none of these.”


In Alastair Campbell’s new book “Winners” Jose Mourinho gives his definition of strategy versus tactics.  Its somewhat contrary to the idea that strategy is a broad, longterm over-encompassing idea under which tactics sit to be deployed in the short term.  He says “The tactics are the model, the principles…. when the keeper has the ball, does he go short or long ?  When the other team has the ball in midfield where do our players go ? … tactics are the DNA of the team… strategy is when you do something for a certain game.”


He goes on to criticise England boss Roy Hodgson for his failure to change strategy in the last world cup game versus Uruguay.  Hodgson made two substitutions at 1-0 down. The subs weren’t sent to play a different role and they didn’t change the course of the game.  England were playing with 4 at the back and losing 1-0.  To at least get a draw Mourinho would have put an extra man in midfield/attack and run with just 3 in defence.  This at the very least would force the opposition to have to react to a change in strategy.


We are building the opportunity for real time course correction into communications plans as the exploitation of real time big data allows us to change what we do mid campaign as opposed to delivering a plan which has been set in stone for months (and hanging on for a post campaign analysis at the traditional point when all the media information is available.)  We are planning for outcomes in business results not media rating delivery.  The obvious thing to do when we course correct is to stick to the same strategy and just refresh the plan with a minor adaption of the same plan.  As Mourinho points out a bigger opportunity lies in switching strategy to significantly over power the competition.


So next time the opportunity comes up for real time course correction ask yourself : are you Hodgson or are you the Special One ?




Scarcity is the mother

Monday, March 9th, 2015

What links UK, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea?

The clue I think lies in the latter country’s digital reputation as these nations make up the D5, the most advanced digital governments countries in the world.  The Digital 5, is a network of leading digital governments with the goal of strengthening the digital economy. The members are bonded by the principle of openness; they are focused on changing government’s relationship with technology.  Something to be proud of; that the UK is leading the charge in this area.  The advances evident from are impressive and matter to all.  The relative ease of obtaining a driving licence or sorting out power of attorney from sites really shows the success of GDS’s mantra “the strategy is delivery”.

In the small European nation Estonia government digital transactions are super fast and super simple. Admittedly there’s only just over a million citizens.  If you’re one of them your tax return will arrive pre filled in – all you have to do is check it and return it.  Anyone who’s laboured over that annual ritual in the UK will appreciate that, and their government spokesman’s statement that “We estimate that the average Estonian saves two weeks of time per year from avoiding paper-based workflows.”.  I can believe it and I’d like those two weeks back too.

Francis Maude, champion of the UK Government’s digital revolution tells the story of how and why Estonia is such a digital pioneer in government.  His equivalent in Estonia told him that significant disruption to heritage practices was really the only choice because when the Russians left post independence there was no legacy (because they took it with them) and no money.  Siim Sikkut is the Estonian Governments ICT policy advisor.  He says they’ve made departments comply by making it illegal for anyone to ask a single person for the same information twice:  “We like to keep things simple” .

Simplicity seems frequently in my experience to be sacrificed for the sake of belt and braces thoroughness.  Not just in filling in a tax return (that is definitely getting simpler) but in most aspects of the media industry.   All too often the more detail we’ve got available to us the more layers of complexity we add.  We build on our heritage with the new methods available to us rather than think radically about how to change everything.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it does require a change of approach in many cases.  Fortunately Adam Morgan (Eat Big Fish and Pirates Inside) now brings us a manual to force disruptive thinking.  It’s called “A beautiful constraint” and it describes how scarcity can be a stimulus for creativity and for real change. We should all adopt the behaviours of necessity to force real progress.





The best way forward? Turn around and look back.

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

There’s an important issue that has been raised by many at the forefront of innovation.  The pace of change is naturally becoming even faster.  At the GDS Sprint 15 conference Martha Lane Fox said that breathlessness wasn’t enough to categorise the pace of change to come.  “We’ll be panting” she said.


The issue is backward compatibility.  There’s no guarantees that any new device or tech will facilitate any kind of transfer from the old.  Got pics that you cherish saved? Better start printing.  Wherever they’re saved now may easily be redundant in the near future.  The cloud won’t last as the storage venue of choice. This is a bit of a pain isn’t it?  Looking backwards would make going forwards much better.


For true future progress the developers must look backwards as well as forwards or, as one of the “fathers of the internet” Vint Cerf says we will face the onset of the digital dark ages.


Show me a training scheme (and people do that all the time) and I’ll  suggest a way it can be improved by building in an element where the trainers stop and listen to how the delegates think that the new stuff works from the heritage they know well.  Better than merely learning the new (and often quickly forgetting its application) let the trainees decide how the new will change the old.  It will usually stick better and deliver real change faster.  I yield to few in my impatience for positive change but if looking backwards means the changes stick and are real then it’s crucial.


Don’t just drive forwards, allow backwards reflection to deliver real change.


The Fosbury Flop is often cited as a great example of innovation, of thinking outside the box.  I first heard of it when a top agency suit was proposing a radical new ad strategy to the client and began with the inspirational clip of Dick Fosbury taking the high jump gold medal at the Olympics by going over the bar backwards in 1968.


A new world record was set. Fantastic progress.  Yet in fact Fosbury was going back to a technique he’d developed at high school, and was driven to do so by back problems.  So a great, literal, leap forward from being constrained to go backwards and then painfully, gradually, making small incremental changes to his old way of jumping.


For best foot forwards, sometimes you’ve got to turn around.